Remember, Don’t Trust Anyone
It is not uncommon for news outlets to seek interview with members of the development team for an upcoming game. In effect, this is a mutually beneficial practice, with increased traffic and interest being the result for the site and developers, respectively. And it is important. Press releases are all fine and dandy, but they must adhere to a certain professional standard, whereas an interview allows direct communication. The great thing about this is that the passion that the interviewee feels for the game can shine through, and if the right questions are asked, fans can get an idea of the methodology of the studio. Basically, information about the game becomes public domain for the readers. Everyone comes out the other end better off. But is it really all positive?
When it comes to the type of interview that discusses all of the great things about an upcoming game, it is important to remember that most of them are used as a PR stunt. As already mentioned, they take place in order to drum up interest in an unreleased game, and persuade readers that it is worth paying for. The most effective way to do this is by glorifying it. It is essential to make the readers believe that this game is important and unique. It can be by emphasising the individual aspects that every game has, but more frequently it comes by exaggerating these.
Once this process begins, it becomes difficult to keep it in check as gamers and the media that serve them seem to have a shared tendency to refuse the trappings of reality. A developer may say too much about a feature, but a journalist will often blow it out of proportion, making it seem more effective that it really is. Think of the coverage of Peter Molyneux’s statement regarding Fable 2 and the dropped acorn. It was an analogy for the consequence system, but it was taken as a literal example leading to ridiculous expectations. Such issues seem to belong more in the realm of second-tier games than the AAA market. Think of the time-bending mechanic of Singularity, the gravity manipulation of Inversion or the reliance on using the creature in Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom. All of them ended up as fine productions (with the exception of the still unreleased Inversion), but these aspects were most certainly overstated, and never really managed to live up to what we were led to believe. Narrative is one of the more frequently extolled examples of excellence and it isn’t difficult to find developers making their game seem more powerful and intelligent than it really is.
At the same time, the phenomenon is not exclusive to such lower-budget titles. It happened with Gran Turismo 5 and the expectations placed upon the standard vehicles, as well as the course editor. Grand Theft Auto IV was expected to be the most exciting entry in the series and every year we receive word that Call of Duty will entertain new, better ideas. It all begins with the developers and maybe a little white lie. But it almost invariably spirals out of control. It may seem fair to ask developers to speak realistically, but you must remember that a game can easily occupy two years of their life. The passion that one feels for something that has been such an integral part of one’s life for such a long time simply cannot be overstated. The real fault lies more with journalists allowing themselves to be swept along on this tide of fancy.
We have to try though. If we can’t, then it must fall to the readers and consumers to separate fact from opinion and to do this, you must always remember to take what you see with a grain of salt. It’s as simple as that.